Cuomo to Seize or Shutter Homeless Shelters That Don’t Clean Up

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 11: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, right, listens to Acacia Network CEO Raul Russ, foreground left, as he visits a room at the Corona Family Residence, a homeless facility, May 11, 2015 in the Queens borough of New York City. Mayor deBlasio made an announcement on his effort to combat the city's homelessness crisis. Also in the visit are Dept. of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters, background left, and Dept. of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio checks out a homeless shelter in Queens. Richard Drew-Pool/Getty Images)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration today unveiled “phase one” of its $10.4 billion plan to contain the swelling homeless population—and announced the state would close down or take control of out-of-compliance shelters for the indigent.

The program revealed today followed state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) inspections of 916 shelters across New York, 638 of them in the city.  These examinations turned up violations of state standards at 892 of them, including vermin infestation, fire code incompliance, insufficient security provisions, mold and and illicit weapons on site.

“The rapid growth of the homeless shelter system in recent years and the persistent nature of safety, habitability, and security-related violations in the shelters make clear the need for strong state oversight of the homeless shelter system and rigorous state enforcement mechanisms when deficiencies fail to be corrected,” the report states.

OTDA announced two of the shelters it inspected will be shut down within 90 days, though it does not identify where they are or what entity ran them—though it noted municipalities most often operate shelters directly. The Cuomo administration gave two other facilities a 90-day timeframe to come into compliance before the state will take further action. Another 21 shelters have 180 days to rectify their on-site problems, or OTDA will close their doors.

Facilities facing closure must place their residents in other housing before shuttering. OTDA and local agencies will reach out to the remaining shelters to ensure “timely correction” of their problems.

“Behind these numbers of violations lies the experience of vulnerable families and adults who frequently face behavioral health and other challenges,” the report continues. “There is a human consequence when the homeless system fails.”

The document alleges that 765 of the shelters inspected were not officially certified by the state—and that the vast majority of the  25,815 violations OTDA discovered were at the uncertified sites. As a result, the report calls for an enormous expansion of state oversight, with new requirements that municipalities submit operating and security plans in order to receive funding from OTDA.

State monies, and federal dollars channeled through OTDA, make up an average of 60 percent of the budget of shelters across the state.

This means the governor and his administration will enjoy even greater power over Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city. The mushrooming street population has become another theater of the lopsided war between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio.

In January, the governor issued an executive order granting his state police power to place all indigent individuals in shelter when the temperature dips below freezing. In the ensuing public relations battle, Mr. Cuomo blamed conditions in city shelters for the continued presence of people on the street amid harrowing weather.

The governor put city Comptroller Scott Stringer, a de Blasio rival, in charge of reviewing conditions and operations of temporary housing in the five boroughs. Mr. Cuomo assigned State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who had faulted OTDA for failing to properly regulate and maintain homeless shelters, to investigating facilities located outside the city.

Asked about OTDA’s announcement at an unrelated event this afternoon, the mayor acknowledged that the state had the power to expand its regulatory role over the city’s shelter system, and said he hoped for a “real partnership” with the governor’s administration going forward. The press release on OTDA’s findings and the state’s plans included quotes of praise from Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who stepped down as Mr. de Blasio’s deputy mayor handling homelessness last year, and who the mayor subsequently appointed as chairwoman of the city’s Health+Hospitals corporation.

“Governor Cuomo’s commitment to investing in affordable housing and tackling the homelessness crisis is bringing New York into a brighter tomorrow,” Ms. Barrios-Paoli said in the statement. “I applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership on this issue and look forward to seeing the impact this historic investment will have in the lives of our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Ms. Barrios-Paoli will sit on the governor’s new Interagency Council on Homelessness, also announced today—as will former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a former de Blasio primary opponent who has recently assisted the city with indigent issues.

As part of the first stage of the governor’s anti-homelessness program, the state revealed it had issued a request-for-proposal to create 1,200 units of housing with on-site social services for the mentally troubled and substance-addled. The governor’s plan calls for the creation of 6,000 such units across the state over the next five years.

Mr. de Blasio has unveiled plans to create 15,000 supportive apartments in the city alone by 2025.